Broome’s Incredible Sailfish Bite

Head to this Western Australia town for outstanding action and beautiful scenery

broome australia from the air
Broome, Australia, is famous for its outstanding fishing as well as stunning views of the surrounding ocean.John Ashley

In the blink of an eye, a dozen or more sailfish appear under the portside teaser. Their jet-black bodies are unmistakable in the clear-blue sea, and getting three skipbaits back to the pack is a no-brainer. Moments later, a tripleheader of sailfish begins to jump in all different directions as absolute chaos erupts in the cockpit while three anglers play unders and overs trying to sort out the crossed-up lines. "Hey, John, welcome to Broome," calls Capt. Chris Nisbet from the bridge of Billistic.

sailfish jumping in black and white
Incredible numbers of sailfish keep anglers coming back year after year.John Ashley

The remote Western Australian town of Broome is unique in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to begin to describe it. From the moment I arrived, this laid-back country town and its wonderful people blew me away, and it was difficult to get away from the interesting sights and history of the place to actually get offshore and go fishing. Despite Broome’s relatively small size, one could truly spend a week touring around the town while taking in the amazing scenery, and relaxing during an evening on the famous Cable Beach as you watch the hot orange sun sink into the Indian Ocean horizon is breathtaking.

map showing broome australia
Broome's location on the northwest coast of Australia provides incredible access to a variety of both nearshore and offshore fisheries.Broomebillfish.com

Broome and its magnificent neighboring Kimberley region have become a huge tourist destination — not only for us Aussies, but overseas travelers are flocking here as well for the area’s sheer natural, rugged beauty. Situated on the northern tropical west coast, it’s hard to believe how the water colors change as they lap the region’s bloodshot shorelines.

A Full Gamut of Possibilities

This place pretty much has it all for fishermen, bar heavy-tackle billfishing. Around the rivers, creeks and bays, you'll find the prized barramundi, along with many other species of jacks and cod, plus threadfin salmon and blackspotted croaker. Anglers can also catch dart, threadfin salmon and blue spot trevally at a leisurely pace along the gutters of Cable Beach and its rocky headlands.

outboard boat trolling for sailfish
Most anglers fish from outboard-powered "tinnies," but some larger boats are available.John Ashley

But there’s so much to offer for offshore anglers: Broome has some of the best light-tackle ­fishing in the entire country, with all kinds of tropical species to target along the coast such as Spanish mackerel, cobia, northern bluefin (longtail) tuna, mahimahi, great trevally and black marlin. But what most anglers chase are the incredible numbers of Indo-Pacific sailfish, and it’s quite common for anglers to tag and release a dozen or more sails in a day on these fishy grounds.

Sailfish City

What makes these offshore waters of the Indian Ocean so favorable for sailfish is the extent of the shallow inshore grounds. The warm, rich currents push over these areas and mix with the remnants of the massive 30-foot tides that scour the coastal rivers and creeks. This influx of water causes all kinds of minute marine animals and nutrients to be swept out to sea on a daily basis, attracting huge schools of baitfish, which in turn draw in the ­sailfish and other pelagic predators.

Although Broome has a major shipping harbor along with a massive commercial dock for cruise ships and large commercial freighters, there’s no marina or facilities here for charter boats or other boating enthusiasts to operate from. However, there are a number of boat ramps scattered around the town, but most people find it easier, and much safer, to launch off Gantheaume Beach on the southern end of Cable Beach because of the ­massive tides.

launching a boat from the beach in australia
Large tides make launching from the beach a necessity.John Ashley

This area is in the lee of the prevailing southeast trade winds and offers protection for launching and retrieving trailer boats from the beach, as well as for the many vessels that tie up to a string of permanent moorings just offshore. The fishermen with moored vessels rely on small aluminum boats — we call them tinnies — to get out to their boats and then back to the beach.

But this hard-packed sandy beach has limits as to how far vehicles can go; four-wheel-drive vehicles are definitely needed, and many of the vehicles often take a good soaking right up to the doors. The adjoining Cable Beach is a restricted area for launching boats, but it is a popular place with the locals and tourists in the late afternoon, not only to marvel at the magnificent sunset, but also to watch with interest as the ­fishermen put their ­vessels back onto trailers.

Techniques

Fishing can start almost immediately after departing from the beach, depending on the target species. Northern bluefin (longtail) tuna and threadfin salmon can be found right up in the shallows close to shore, and even a few miles out because the depth doesn’t vary much at all. The bottom tapers away only gradually, and the secret to finding the action is to locate the bait schools, but the bait can often hang quite close the bottom because of the massive tides and strong currents. Once the guys locate the bait, they quickly go to work in the area and troll for billfish and tuna, or at times concentrate on catching Spanish mackerel.

sailfish ready for release off broome australia
Find the bait and you're likely to find lots of hungry sails like this one.John Ashley

Capt. Nisbet fishes a pair of multicolored ­rubber squid chains from the middle of the outriggers that are operated from an electric reel on the bridge of his 34-foot sport-fisher, Billistic. They connect to a small, fresh queenfish on the end of both teaser lines: These tough-skinned baits can take repeated beatings from the billfish and tend to last quite a while. The crew also deploys a small dredge filled with imitation strip teasers under the vessel's hull, which was tied off on the bow at the appropriate length so as not to get tangled up with the propellers.

Capt. Nisbet advises the four anglers on board to stand at the transom with their rods armed with fresh baits and wait for the shot at a sailfish when the fish enters the spread. The baits of choice: ­ballyhoo — known locally as garfish — rigged with an 8/0 nonoffset Gamakatsu circle hook on 60-pound monofilament leaders. These rigs get changed over to a light single-strand wire leader with double J hooks in the baits when anglers target the sharp‑fanged Spanish mackerel.

sailfish jumping
An acrobatic speedster, Broome's sailfish are a terrific light-tackle adversary.John Ashley

The anglers on board Billistic were so keen for a billfish bite that they skipped their baits right up close to the boat while waiting for a sailfish or marlin to come in on the teasers. In doing so, they also paid the price a number of times when a hungry mackerel zoomed into the boat's prop wash and snipped their baits in half.

The Tackle

Anglers prefer the versatile spinning outfits rigged with braid because of the ability to cast light baits to free-swimming sails when other anglers are hooked up. The rods feature open-ringed guides, and have light tips to assist when casting small baits a good distance.

sailfish jumping behind billistic in australia
The walkaround design of Capt. Chris Nisbet's Billistic makes it a perfect platform to chase sails off Broome.John Ashley

I saw this casting technique work many times, and the walkaround deck on Billistic made it easy for the anglers to move around the vessel and get their baits out in any direction.

On light tackle, these tough sailfish give a ­spectacular fight, and Capt. Nisbet is all about looking after the precious stocks of sailfish here — he avoids lifting them into the boat, even for a quick photo. He also takes particular care where the tags are placed in the fish because the smaller sails have such a slim body that these tags could easily damage a fish if inserted in the wrong area.

There were plenty of times throughout my time offshore Broome when we had double- and even tripleheaders. With a variety of fishing opportunities and the ability to easily bait-and-switch sailfish, it’s a fantastic place for young anglers — or those wanting to learn this tactic — all the way through to veteran anglers to sharpen their skills, and I can say they’ll be blown away by the fishing action.

Broome Intel

When to Go
Broome is situated on the tropical northwestern coastline of Australia and has two major seasons a year. The wet season extends from November through April; the weather can get pretty warm and sticky, with frequent storms bringing showers and even torrential rain — usually the rain clouds and storms disappear just as quickly as they arrive. The rest of the year — from late May to October — is the dry season, and there can be magnificent warm days with cloudless skies accompanied by cooler nights. This is the time of year when sailfishing and other game fishing is at its best.

How to Get There
Flying is by far the best way to Broome because it's a long and dusty drive from Darwin and Perth, the closest major cities. International flights arrive into either of these two cities, and connecting flights with either Qantas or Virgin Australia to Broome take a little over two hours.

It’s a good idea when arriving in Broome to grab a handy booklet called Uniquely Broome, which is available for just a couple of bucks at the airport and about every shop around town.

The book contains maps, tour info, and other intel on where to stay and eat, as well as a host of valuable local information about Broome and the whole Dampier Peninsula.

Where to Stay
Tourism is a huge part of the economy of Broome, and there are all kinds of accommodations to suit everyone's budget, from camping and RV parks to basic condos, motels and hotels (locals call them pubs), right up to luxury five-star resorts. The top of my list is the magnificent Cable Beach Resort situated right on the edge of the world-famous beach for which it's named. The other impressive place I looked at is the new five-star Pearle Resort, just a short walk from Cable Beach.

Local Flavor
The one thing Broome is not short of is top-class eateries, and the local seafood in particular is phenomenal. Fresh delectable mud crabs, saltwater barramundi fillets and the exotic pearl meat from the huge pearl oysters are all hard to pass up. If you're into big, succulent steaks, the local beef or water buffalo meat is also excellent. There are also lots of locally grown tropical fruits and some of the juiciest pineapples and mangoes you have ever tasted. Of course you'll need to enjoy a superb red or white wine with all this great table fare: The Western Australian wines from the Margaret River region are some of Australia's best and are becoming popular all over the world.

Where to Eat
The two restaurants at the Cable Beach Resort are first-class, along with 18 Degrees in the town center. The Wharf Seafood Restaurant near the Port of Broome is also a standout. All throughout the town, and particularly in the Chinatown area, are a host of great restaurants, first-class coffee shops and cafes. The one thing I can recommend for a tasty lunch is the barramundi burger, which is loaded with a big, fresh fillet, accompanied by a salad with a tangy dressing. You won't go hungry in this town — I can guarantee that.

Tours
The Broome region is also packed full of history, particularly with the pearling industry. There are extensive tours that are well worth the time and dollars to experience while you are there. Without a doubt, one of the best tours we experienced was the five-hour tour to the Willie Creek Pearl Farm to see how these massive pearl oysters are cultivated to produce some of the world's finest Moon Bright pearls — an absolutely fascinating process to witness. These pearls can be purchased on-site at the farm's jewelry shop as well as at several of the jewelry shops around town.

Broome is the only place in Australia to have hovercraft tours operating, and just the ride — let alone the entire tour — is worth the expense. They provide two different kinds of tours: The shortest takes you over the vast tidal flats and sandbanks of Roebuck Bay to an area almost inaccessible by any other means, where you can view 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints.

hovercraft in Australia
Hovercraft tours give visitors a unique way to see the coastline.John Ashley

The second tour is a little longer and continues on from the dinosaur footprints to other interesting sights along the Broome coastline, leading to a secluded point on the tidal flats where hors d’oeuvres and wine or champagne are served as you marvel over the spectacular Broome sunset.

The Magnificent Kimberley's Not many visitors venture all the way to Broome without also taking in the wonders of the vast, rugged Kimberley region. This sacred Aboriginal land covers an area of more than 164,000 square miles and boasts eight national parks. The popular tourist areas are extensive and include Bungle Bungle, Gibb River Road, Lake Argyle, Elquestro Station, Mornington Sanctuary, Cape Leveque and the amazing Horizontal Waterfalls. A boat ride over these falls is an unforgettable experience.

About the Author

australian author john ashley
Australian author and avid angler John Ashley.John Ashley

John Ashley has ­written about his offshore adventures for fishing publications across the world for the past four decades. His travels have stretched from the wilds of Cape Verde to his Aussie grander grounds on the Great Barrier Reef, and there are few places in between he hasn’t fished.